Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead, in collaboration with Josh Ritter and members of The National (namely Josh Kaufman, producer), has released a beautiful Americana/folk record that seems to transcend a generational gap. With simple melodies and trotting bass lines reminiscent of the mid-century folk of middle America, combined with years of obvious training and challenging the form, Weir has created an album that feels like home without falling into the trap of relying on its nostalgia to pull in a willing audience. The album could easily have been an easy “remember the good old days where the only thing whiter than our picket fences were our neighbors” country/Americana album, however (likely due, in part, to the contributions by both Ritter and the members of The National), the air of self awareness and experimentation in conjunction with bouncy, melancholy lyrics adds a sort of relatable and contemporarily relevant aspect to the record that is simply mesmerizing.
Though the album is a phenomenal through-listen with no throwaway tracks, Lay My Lily Down and Ghost Towns are apparent standouts. Both demonstrate this sort of funky swagger and groove separating them from many other tracks on Blue Mountain by just being grounded and straightforward. Though both are certainly two of the less musically complex songs on the record, they hold so much visceral tension that is lacking from many other tracks on the album.
That said- the album’s main flaw is that many songs do not have this rooted sound. Of course not every track needs to sit in this sort of grounded groove, but most of these live in a more safe space in which many Americana albums live – that acoustic, mid-range space where Willie Nelson and Hank Williams did much of their work. Luckily, Weir (and collaborators) was very successful in making even those songs that lived in that space sound new, important, and organic. In fact, the most impressive part of this record is how organic it really sounds – it never feels as if the music was written to sell to a specific genre-loving or artist-worshipping audience or to make the listeners happy with what has been presented to them; it simply exists as a collection of truthful words and heartfelt (in the most real sense of the word) melodies to do just that – to simply exist.